Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Real Story

One of the most vivid memories of my life occurred while I witnessed the behavior of a young man who had recently joined my gym. He was a tiny bloke. In fact, when I first saw him, I thought he was a jockey at Arlington.

What struck me about this young man, aside from his petite stature, was the way he was dressed. Every article of clothing on his body was new, but more than its shininess, was the strategic chromaticism that betokened the sartorial vanguard. Just looking at the outfit, I imagined the numerous meetings and discussions that must have been conducted, before it was finally decided to use crimson, instead of cerise, to dye the hem of the collar.  

His shoes were branded with the Jumpman Logo and spotless. His shirt was knitted from fabric that was created in a lab not spun from the natural fibers of Mother Earth. He had an arm band that held his IPOD and a pair of ear buds that had an ergonomic design and a metallic brightness that indicated they may have been custom made. The young man apparently had big plans for the evening because he urgently removed from his pockets a pair of workout gloves. Some members of the gym might think this last appurtenance was something to be sneered at, but not me. After all, calluses hurt. 

It got stranger from there. He placed his ear buds into his canals and manipulated the buttons on his IPOD until he found the right song. He rolled his neck in a circle a couple of times, flexed his narrow shoulders, and jumped up and down three or four times. But apparently all this warming-up had taxed his strength. Rather than actually lifting any weights or doing any physically strenuous exercise, he walked to the front of the gym and purchased two specially-formulated beverages: one, to build-muscle, the other, to quench his thirst.

After he returned, I watched him tilt each container daintily to his lips. Then he went through another series of complicated stretches. Eventually, he laid down on the bench and actually made contact with the knurls. He even gripped the bar firmly a few times as if bracing himself for an engagement.

It was going great for the young man until he noticed the laces of his shoes were hanging unevenly. This was a dishevelment not to be tolerated. But how could he get his laces to hang equidistant from each other when his hands were being restrained by his work-out gloves? His footwear standards were too scrupulous to sacrifice any of his dexterity, so he took the gloves off. The music must have been impeding his concentration because he removed his ear buds as well. Now he was in control. Now he had plenary power to manipulate those laces, and manipulate them he did. 

I finished two sets of bench press before he finished tying his shoes.

When he was finally satisfied with his footwear, the ear buds were placed back into his canals, and he began to move his neck in a slow gyre. But all that bending and squatting he did while tying his shoes must have parched his throat. The two beverages in front of him that he'd just purchased were inappropriate for this particular species of thirst, so he went back to the front of the gym and purchased a bottle of water. He came back to the area of the gym where the free-weights were located. He resumed the spot he had earlier, only now he had three containers, three different beverages. 

At this point, I'm done with my workout, I might have been dressed like a pauper in old rags and still using a Discman as my source of music, but I am sweating, my muscles are slightly twitching, joyously fatigued. I could leave the gym at this point, but my curiosity is piqued.  

Will the young man actually lift a weight or will he, grab his three beverages, get in his car and go home? I want to see how this story ends. Or maybe to be more precise, I want to confirm my contempt; I don't want to ground my disdain in mere surmise--I bet he never even lifted a weight. No, I did't want to presume--I wanted to be sure.

It wasn't long after I finished my workout that the suspense ended. Not a single weight lifted. He gathered his beverages in his arms and left.

So what does this episode have to do with writing?

Writing, like lifting weights, is hard; it demands a certain amount of suffering to grow and improve. It is much easier to buy a new pen or buy a new desk or buy a new computer and tell yourself that these new instruments will make you a better writer than it is to actually put the work in to become a better writer.

It's fun buying new things; it's pleasurable to imagine how those new things will change your life.

Do you know what isn't so fun? To sit down in quiet room (yes, this means you turn your phone off) and write. Writing, like lifting weights, will have its moments of reward and achievement, but these moments are almost never located at the beginning of the endeavor. The fun comes after the pain, not before it.

Careful going to those coffee shops. Yeah, I know it stimulates your muse, but it also leads to a whole lot of distractions and wasted time. Getting serious, working up a sweat, pushing yourself into joyous fatigue--it's the only way